Francis Crick

Francis Harry Compton Crick was born on June 8th, 1916, at Northampton, England, being the elder child of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Wilkins.

He has one brother, A. F. Crick, who is a doctor in New Zealand.

Supported by a studentship from the Medical Research Council and with some financial help from his family, Crick went to Cambridge and worked at the Strangeways Research Laboratory.

In 1949 he joined the Medical Research Council Unit headed by M. F. Perutz of which he has been a member ever since.

This Unit was for many years housed in the Cavendish Laboratory Cambridge, but in 1962 moved into a large new building – the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology – on the New Hospital site.

He became a research student for the second time in 1950, being accepted as a member of Caius College, Cambridge, and obtained a Ph.D. in 1954 on a thesis entitled «X-ray diffraction: polypeptides and proteins».

In 1947 Crick knew no biology and practically no organic chemistry or crystallography, so that much of the next few years were spent in learning the elements of these subjects.

During this period, together with W. Cochran and V. Vand he worked out the general theory of X-ray diffraction by a helix, and at the same time as L. Pauling and R. B. Corey, suggested that the alpha-keratin pattern was due to alpha-helices coiled round each other.

As a theorist in a science based on experiment, Francis Crick, more than any other single scientist, defined the field of molecular biology during its “classical period” from the discovery of the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953 to the elucidation of the complete genetic code in 1966.

In the words of fellow Nobel laureate Jacques Monod, “No one man discovered or created molecular biology.

But one man dominates intellectually the whole field, because he knows the most and understands the most: Francis Crick.” Crick went on to make important contributions to developmental biology and, during the last twenty-five years of his life, to neurobiology.

His insights into DNA and the genetic code, ground-breaking in their time, have become standards of science education as well as references in popular culture.

In the summer of 1951, Crick began his collaboration with James D. Watson, a postdoctoral fellow from the United States eleven years his junior.

Their collaboration is the best-known of several examples of Crick’s remarkable ability to form sustained productive friendships with other scientists.

The pairing rule meant that the two chains were complementary and that each could serve as a template for a new chain during cell division, providing a model for the transmission of hereditary characteristics from one generation to the next.

In recognition of their discovery, Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 together with Maurice Wilkins, the crystallographer who had taken the first high-resolution X-ray images of DNA fibers and who had thus laid the groundwork for their discovery.

Later Crick hung a helix, single-stranded and painted gold, over the door to the double-wide row house in the historic center of Cambridge he and his family occupied for many years.